For the bulk of his career Henry Pruette , whom we endorse, worked across the entire District Court spectrum, and for a time he ran Durham's child support court. After his wife received a business opportunity, he moved to California and began writing screenplays. When he returned to Durham he was disturbed by what he perceived as a chaotic situation in the Durham courts, which partially motivated him to seek a judgeship.
Pruette also holds a master's degree in education and taught elementary school in Durham for several years. He recognizes that Durham's jail is clogged with mentally ill defendants, and he is an advocate for alternative sentencing. He is well liked by his peers.
Doretta Walker, the incumbent, is a former assistant district attorney and lifelong Durhamite. She is breezy, irreverent and sometimes witty. But she is also known to patronize defendants, and she has been chastised by the N.C. Court of Appeals for referring to a 21-year-old defendant as "baby." (In that case the appellate court disagreed with Walker's determination that a father earning $430 a month off an SSI check was financially capable of paying child support.) She also received the endorsements of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the People's Alliance.
Incumbent Nancy Gordon, who gets our endorsement, was recently ranked by the State Bar Association as the worst judge in the state. That ranking was in part due to her penchant for outbursts from the bench, where she is known to make attorneys quiver if they are late or unprepared. We do not believe Gordon deserves such a low ranking.
Insiders praise her for her dogged work ethic and Family Court savvy; no other seated judge (or candidate) in Durham has a specialist board certification (hers is in family law).
She is a vociferous believer in the efficacy of therapeutic diversion courts, and she has led recent efforts to bring a veterans treatment court to Durham. She needs to tone down her emotions from the bench and focus solely on balls and strikes. But she deserves credit for owning up to her shortcomings, promising voters she has gotten the message. It's not easy for us to vouch for the lowest-ranked judge as graded by peers, but we do not believe the State Bar Association's Judicial Performance Evaluation is the best barometer of a judge's capability. She was also endorsed by the People's Alliance.
Fred Battaglia, Gordon's chief opponent, has run a good campaign. A private practitioner, Battaglia self-identifies as a liberal, denounces changes made to the Voting Rights Act, and has come out against North Carolina's Medicaid restrictions. We applaud his support for truancy judges in schools. He would be a fine judge, but he comes across as something of a showman, and we wonder about some of the personal issues he has with Gordon that seem to stoke his vitriol. (Battaglia once represented a lawyer Gordon held in contempt of court for being late for a case—a point he has campaigned on.) He received the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
One-term incumbent Pat Evans has been a popular judge among voters. An excellent campaigner, she has great support in Durham's African-American community and has the endorsements of the Durham Committee and the People's Alliance.
She works well with troubled juveniles, has remitted court costs for indigents and often metes out fair sentences. We commend her for voicing her disturbance at the disproportionate numbers of minorities in Durham courtrooms. Yet, she often unnecessarily lords her power over the courtroom. In its most recent Judicial Performance Evaluation, the State Bar Association ranked Evans the second-to-last district judge in the state, perhaps a reflection of her authoritarian attitude when it comes to maintaining courtroom order. Regarding job performance, she's publicly stated she is "right where I need to be," but that seems to suggest that she is content with mediocrity.
We endorse Evans' opponent, Steven Storch, a Durham magistrate and wild card judicial candidate. Highly intelligent, he received a doctorate and taught university philosophy and ethics courses for more than a decade, before earning a law degree. In 2012, he started presiding over a new administrative court, and claims to have made the court more efficient. His ethics, however, were called into question this past summer when he was cited with illegally removing protest signs mounted on public property by a resident unhappy with the Durham sheriff. Storch defended his actions, telling the INDY that he was charged "with a statute from 18-fucking-85," and that he didn't want the city to look bad. (The criminal charge was ultimately deferred—wiped away—and Storch was made to apologize to the man who mounted the signs.) Other attorneys in Durham suggest that Storch plays favorites as a magistrate. Still, it's time for a change. We endorse Storch.
In the run-up to the primary election, we endorsed two candidates for Wake County DA who are no longer in the race: Boz Zellinger and Jeff Cruden. Both men are fantastic trial attorneys, and we're disappointed neither is still in the running.
We now endorse Lorrin Freeman, a former prosecutor, assistant attorney general and the clerk of superior court for the last eight years. Though her critics suggest she lacks trial court experience—and note that a bail bondsman scandal erupted on her watch—she will make a solid DA. As clerk, she is intimately acquainted with the inner workings of the DA's office. She served as chairwoman of the Raleigh Human Relations Commission. She is the daughter of Franklin Freeman, a prominent Democrat and former N.C. Supreme Court justice. She is popular among democratic activists and women, and her integrity is uncontested. Freeman has received endorsements from many Wake County mayors, including Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, and District 16 state Sen. Josh Stein.
Bryant, a private practice attorney, won the Republican nomination in a runoff with Cruden. A former football player for Wake Forest University who spent eight years in the private sector, Bryant was an administrative law prosecutor for 20 years, and managed his own law firm. He is a former Democrat who lost an election for a State Senate seat. He has since touted conservative ideologies, including support for small government and the second amendment. His platform includes advocating for more trust between civilians and law enforcement, greater community outreach and reducing the caseload for substance abusers. But like Freeman, he lacks prosecutorial experience. He has received the endorsement of longtime friend Sen. Richard Burr, and the support of former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly Lake and Sheriff Donnie Harrison.
Because incumbent Lorrin Freeman is running for Wake County District Attorney, the clerkship is an open seat. Clerk of Superior Court is ostensibly a nonpartisan position, involving the keeping of court records, administrative and clerical duties and disbursement of money collected in court fines.
We endorse Republican Jennifer Knox. A Wake County District Court Judge for the past 10 years, Knox has an impeccable reputation among Republicans and Democrats alike, who know her as a hard worker with a good conscience. As judge she has shown great compassion toward troubled kids, gang members and substance abusers. Prior to her time on the bench, she was a Wake County prosecutor, responsible for screening sex abuse cases.
She is also known as the granddaughter of ultra-conservative U.S. Senator Jesse Helms. She says she knows well how the clerk's office works, and she emphasizes the need to update technology in the court system. The only problem with Knox's potential win is that she'll leave a void on the district bench. She is endorsed by NC Police Benevolent Association.
Sam Bridges, a criminal defense attorney and 23-year veteran of the Wake County court system, is organized, well-spoken and well-liked, and he would make a fine clerk. Bridges also served as mayor of Garner for two terms, experience which he says he expects will help foster "an atmosphere of bipartisan cooperation among all the stakeholders in the courthouse." He is endorsed by a handful of politicians, including State Treasurer Janet Cowell.
We strongly endorse Craig Croom, a former sheriff's deputy, prosecutor and, for 12 years ending in 2012, a district and superior court judge. He currently serves as an administrative judge with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings. He is well-regarded by his peers and, as a district court judge, enjoyed an excellent reputation, particularly in his dealings with juvenile defendants. Known to speak with them on their level, he challenged them passionately and honestly. He volunteers with Capital Area Teen Court and the Garner Road YMCA Teen Achievers program, speaks to teens in churches and schools and has support from Democrats and Republicans. He is endorsed by the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys and the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association.
Charles Gilliam was appointed to the seat by Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this year, when he was an N.C. State University professor of business law and corporate finance, and is running to retain it. A former accountant, financial analyst and assistant general counsel for Xerox Corp, he later co-founded an intellectual property oriented technology company where he handled legal affairs. He lost the election to a district judge seat in 2012. Though he has handled complex litigation including business transactions and international trade, critics say Gilliam lacks criminal experience, and courtroom insiders suggest he is in over his head as a judge. He identifies as a conservative.
The race between Ronnie Ansley and Louis Meyer cold be a tight one. We endorse Ansley, a Democrat attorney in a private practice. Ansley is perhaps most known for being a perpetual also-ran candidate in races for which he was unqualified. In 2000 he lost the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor to Beverly Perdue. In 2002, he lost to U.S. Rep. Brad Miller in a primary. In 2006 he lost his bid to join the N.C. Supreme Court, and two years later he lost the election for agricultural commissioner. Now, however, Ansley is finally running for a position he is fit for. He identifies as a moderate, but he has streaks of progressivism, particularly in his work with troubled youth, and is well-liked by his peers. He has the endorsement of the N.C. Police Benevolent Association.
Meyer, the incumbent, also has a good reputation and has been a fine judge since being appointed to the bench by Gov. Perdue in 2012. Also well-regarded in the courthouse, he has touted himself as a conservative Democrat. Prior to his appointment, he was a private practice attorney for 27 years, with an emphasis on employment law. He is past president of the Wake County Bar Association. He is running on a platform of managing a large caseload. He has supported many of the Wake County Bar Association's public service projects, and is endorsed by the Wake County Democrats.